Last Thursday, long-time NHL insider and Canadian sportscaster John Shannon tweeted this to his nearly 150,000 followers:
Source confirms that the NHL is planning the private purchase of a COVID vaccine for all constituents involved in the potential upcoming season.— John Shannon (@JShannonhl) December 10, 2020
This is a bad look for the NHL, to say the least.
The replies to Shannon’s tweet were messy and understandably angry. Most sentiments echoed the necessity to vaccinate frontline workers as soon as possible and the outrage at the influence of wealth and culture capital that could potentially allow the NHL to ‘jump the line.’
As COVID-19 vaccines have begun to be sent out to small portions of the U.S. and Canada, there is completely valid backlash at the idea that players, coaches, and all those involved with the league would be privy to the vaccine before healthcare workers, essential employees, caregivers, and those who are most vulnerable.
If the NHL did somehow pull off a private purchase, what else could this be seen as instead of depriving people of necessary medication and thus delaying distribution to those in need?
NHL players aren’t anywhere near the front of the line when it comes to COVID vaccines, and it’s difficult to justify the information Shannon put out. In a follow-up tweet, Shannon said:
For clarification...— John Shannon (@JShannonhl) December 11, 2020
The NHL is interested in securing vaccine when and if it’s available for private purchase.
Is it at this point? — no.
The league also is adamant they would not jump the line to do so.
Still, fans aren’t convinced. After all, the NHL has a history of putting its own business interests ahead of public concerns.
In 2009, when H1N1 vaccines were first being made available, the Calgary Flames players, their families, and Flames’ staff members were able to be vaccinated in the midst of public vaccine supplies dwindling.
For the Stanley Cup Playoffs this year, the NHL acquired private COVID tests, claiming that the bubble was an independent entity, free of the public health system, and therefore did not affect it.
If the NHL isn’t planning on jumping the line, then why would there be a need to pursue a potential private purchase — even at an exorbitant extra cost? The problem with vaccinating NHL players isn’t the price — especially not for players making millions of dollars a year - rather, it’s the quantity. How can the NHL defend a league composed of 20- and 30-somethings in peak physical condition getting the vaccine ahead of any essential worker?
If the NHL does purchase private tests, it’s no longer a PR disaster; it’s a slap in the face to public health policy.
At best, the information Shannon has put out shows a league that wants to return to play, at any means necessary. At worst, this shows a league that is elitist, tone-deaf, callous, and willing to use its money, power, and cultural capital to keep the season alive at the detriment to its fans.
This justifiably requires some response from the NHL. The league will need to convince both fans and media that they won’t seek to circumvent vaccine protocol as vaccinations are slowly distributed across the U.S. and Canada.
As much as we want sports to return in a safe and efficient way, we can’t overlook those who’ve been putting their lives on the line for months, those who are immunocompromised, those who are much more at risk than a bunch of hockey players.
If it turns out that a league of world-class athletes get the vaccine before the most vulnerable of the public, there will be outrage and it will be warranted.